There are many people who avoid dairy for a variety of reasons, such as food sensitivity or concerns about animal welfare or the environment. However, there are many people avoiding dairy due to the belief that dairy is bad for you. Let's take a look at the nutritional and health impacts of including (or avoiding) dairy products - and uncover if dairy is actually bad for you... or not!
1. Lactose intolerance
First, let’s answer the common question: “What is lactose?”. Lactose is a type of carbohydrate found in dairy. Lactase is the digestive enzyme which helps us breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance may arise due to lactase deficiency or lactose malabsorption. The severity of lactose intolerance differs from person to person, some individuals are able to tolerate yogurt and/or cheese while some are not able to tolerate any dairy products. This is different from an allergy to milk, where any amount of dairy will cause an immune reaction (which can be severe, such as anaphylaxis).
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance are:
Symptoms occur within a few hours after ingestion of milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy-containing products. Diagnosis of lactose intolerance is typically made by your physician with presence of persistent symptoms and/or a hydrogen breath test. People diagnosed with lactose intolerance can enjoy a healthy, balanced diet while limiting dairy products, choosing lactose-free dairy products, or using lactase enzyme replacements.
2. Dairy is high in fat and sugar
Not all dairy products are the same in terms of nutritional content! Cheese is generally higher in fat than yogurt and flavoured yogurt and milk can have added sugars; but this shouldn’t scare you away! Dairy products contain high quality protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and potassium to name a few. Fermented dairy products, such as probiotic-fortified yogurt or kefir, can also be a rich source of probiotics that can benefit your gut bacteria and overall digestive health!
Here are some suggestions of dairy products to try:
plain Greek or regular yogurt (flavour yourself with berries, jam, honey, or maple syrup!)